Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Penelope (Penny for short). I’m the proud owner of Uptightso, a small business that produces quirkily elegant leggings designed and hand made with love in my small, teal-colored apartment in Sydney, Australia. Uptightso is only a wee six months old, though it’s been a long time in the making. It’s a product of my experiences working in and studying both graphic and fashion design. Uptightso fills the gap between these two areas, marrying my passions for art and design, giving me the freedom to be the creative person that I love to be.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I love more than anything to collect vibrant vintage clothes. I gain inspiration from all their beautifully unique prints. I also recently went trekking in Nepal. There I took Uptightso to 5,416 meters. That’s 17,769 feet above sea level! There’s a funny photo of me revealing my Uptights at altitude and -20 degrees Celsius (shown below). Don’t judge me on my headgear — it was really cold! I’m hoping to do a collection that brings together all the amazing sights I encountered along the way.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Everything Happens for a Reason – a bit lame, I know, but there have been too many instances in my life that can’t be explained by coincidence. I believe in fate!
Where does your inspiration come from?
The world is full of inspiration if you take the time to look. Something as simple as a leaf, a bird or even my grandfather’s pajamas can blossom into an idea for a design. Beyond that, I love 1950s children’s book illustrations. Something about graphics done before computers preserves a quality similar to the uniqueness I so love in handmade products.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade represents a caring relationship. Unlike something mass produced, a handmade product does not feel lifeless, deadened by the many other copies exactly like it. It is alive! All the planning, time, effort and design — in short, the whole thoughtfulness of the creative process — are brought to bear on the piece, giving it a quality, an aura even, that makes it singularly unique. This is what I most love about handmade: its uniqueness exemplifies the caring relationship it shares with its maker. That said, I am not entirely against products made by machines; I’m for an alliance. I lovingly make patterns and draw my own prints by hand, but I bring them together with my trusty sewing machine.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
Intuition is an important part of my design process. This is not to say that I work without influences. Indeed, I think intuition is an active process, something that involves an ongoing alertness to the designers I love and take inspiration from. In the world of fashion, these include the late, great Alexander McQueen, as well as Manish Arora, and the delectable prints produced by the designers at Marimekko. Each of these designers always offers something different; they are prepared to break new ground. Their ethos is what most inspires me.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
At times, I am convinced it all started when my mother would take me along to her school dance performances (she’s a high school teacher). She used to sit me on the stage where I would take inspiration from all the wonderful costumes, bouncing around to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” I would spend hours drawing and designing costumes. I can also vividly recall sitting with my grandfather as he repeatedly showed me how to draw cowboys with cigarettes in their mouths while my grandmother was knitting one of her amazing lilac sweaters. The creativity they heaped on me left an impression that is impossible to ignore.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is somewhat chaotic. Starting a big drawing/painting/collaging session is usually the way I get my ideas flowing. I also keep my eye on upcoming fashion trends to inspire these artistic brainstorms, but I don’t feel obligated to stay constrained to the ideas emanating from high fashion. Often, I end up with something that just feels right. Intuition is probably the most important aspect of my process.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
A hard choice, but I’ve held an enduring fascination with Frida Kahlo since high school. I’m not sure I want to visit her studio for the usual artistic or design reasons (for that, I’d head straight to Marimekko in its 1960s heyday). Rather, I want to visit it because I hope I could find in it something of the tragic melodrama of her life that I have found so alluring. That said, I also really want to raid her closet: in almost every photo and self portrait I’ve seen, she’s sporting the most wild jewelry and Mexican embroided dresses. Maybe it’s this that draws me to her?
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
My great-grandmother’s beautiful hand-loomed nightgown, a piece handed down to me by my late grandmother. What makes it stand out is its simple yet skillfully hand-loomed thick white cotton fabric. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore. You can feel the loving and caring work my great-grandmother, a seamstress, invested in it almost 100 years ago. Maybe that’s where my interest in fabric comes from? As they say, it’s in the blood.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I’m a big fan of doodling (I’m not sure if this term is used in other countries, but in Australia it means to draw like nobody is watching; anything that pops into your head, without a care in the world). This leads me into new creative territory. Better yet, I like to go and doodle in the park. I take my pad and pen and sit by myself, and just let the connection between my mind, pen and page mingle away.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I want the rather predictable middle-class dream: a healthy and happy loving family with a couple of cheeky kids. But beyond that, I dream of Uptightso becoming a full-time business, with a small team of likeminded folk working with me in a cute inner-city studio.